Kevin Durant is not built like us.
“He’s George Gervin and Dirk (Nowitzki) all mixed into one,” Jason Kidd said of the OKlahoma City Thunder forward. “He’s seven feet, he can put it on the floor, he’s shown that he can pass, rebound, so he has the total package.
(Interjection: the first time I ever saw Durant in person, it was a Nets-Thunder game in 2009. I got my dad the tickets for Christmas, because I was a broke college student and couldn’t afford anything but tickets to the worst Nets team in franchise history. Durant dropped 40 points without breaking a sweat in a blowout, capping it with a fast-break dunk. The Nets were 2-29 and my dad joked that Durant was 6-11: six pounds, 11 ounces. All in all, a good night.)
Durant is in the midst of one of the hottest shooting months ever. Since the last time these two teams played, Durant has averaged a ridiculous 37.5 points and 6.1 assists per game while shooting over 50 percent from the field and over 40 percent from three-point range. I’m going to say that again: Durant has averaged 37.5 points and 6.1 assists per game while shooting over 50 percent from the field and over 40 percent from three-point range. He’s scored 30 points in 12 consecutive games, four games shy of Kobe Bryant’s modern record set in 2003. Those are ridiculous, video game-like numbers.
He has put up games of 54 points, 48 points, 48 points, 46 points, and 41 points in the last four weeks. He had a triple-double against the Philadelphia 76ers last week. Since the last time these two played, the Thunder have the league’s third-best offense and third-best plus-minus per 100 possessions. They’ve reeled off nine straight wins, and have the West’s best record at 37-10. Most recently, Durant turned the MVP race into an MVP victory lap, trotting around LeBron James by putting up 33 points in a blowout victory over the defending champion Miami Heat.
The Thunder — and particularly, Durant — is that good, and nearly impossible to stop. But those numbers are since these last two teams played, and in case you’ve forgotten what happened in that game, allow All-Star Joe Johnson to remind you:
Durant struggled in that game with foul trouble and turnovers, finishing with “just” 24 points, five fouls, and five turnovers in 34 minutes. On the other side, that win kick-started Brooklyn’s red-hot month: they’ve been 10-2 in January, starting with that victory. In that game, the Nets played a combination of Shaun Livingston and Andrei Kirilenko on Durant, fronting him and forcing him to make quick, uncomfortable decisions.
As a whole, Brooklyn’s defense has clicked in the last month. They’re making quicker switches and better decisions with Kevin Garnett at center, and the team’s mantra of switching one-to-five when they’ve got the right defensive personnel has worked. They’re clicking to the tune of 100.9 points per 100 possessions allowed in the month of January, ranking them 5th in the league in that span.
The Nets can’t just focus their defensive pressure all on Durant, though. The Thunder have surrounded Durant with solid shooters Jeremy Lamb, Reggie Jackson, and (yes) Derek Fisher, with shot-blocking magnate Serge Ibaka patrolling the frontcourt. They’re the only team in the NBA that’s top-4 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They’re a nightmare matchup that only nine teams have solved in a 48-minute span this season.
But the Nets are one of those teams. Can they do it again?
Tipoff at 8:00 P.M.